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Annual lectures part of year marking Reformation’s 500th anniversary

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – In this year of celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, Bethel College is bringing a renowned Lutheran scholar to campus for the annual Menno Simons Lectures.

And the lectures, normally held starting the last Sunday of October, will be earlier this year – Oct. 8-9.

This is because Martin Luther’s “95 Theses” were originally posted in Wittenberg, Germany, Oct. 31, 1517 – now counted as the birthdate of the Reformation, and making the last weekend in October 2017 into the culminating time of celebration for Lutherans.

Timothy J. Wengert, Ministerium of Pennsylvania emeritus professor of Reformation history and the Lutheran Confessions at Lutheran Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, has given his three-lecture series the overall title “Remembering 500 Years of Reformation Together.”

Wengert will draw on his recent experience translating and annotating “The Ninety-five Theses, or Disputation on the Power of Indulgences,” and on his earlier work for the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) with Mennonite World Conference (MWC), to examine the ways in which Luther’s “95 Theses” and theology continue to influence today’s churches, and especially relations between Mennonites and Lutherans.

The first lecture, “Martin Luther, the 95 Theses and the Mennonites” will be Oct. 8 at 7 p.m. in Krehbiel Auditorium.

This presentation will examine the specific context and content of the “Theses” to help listeners discover “some deep points of convergence” between Luther’s early theology and that of the Anabaptist and Mennonite traditions.

“The centrality of the Word of God, the danger of misusing power in the church, and the care for the poor are only three of many places where those ‘Theses’ create common ground for Lutherans and Mennonites 500 years after their publication,” Wengert said.

“What Makes Martin Luther a ‘Father of the Faith’?” is the title of Wengert’s second lecture, at 11 a.m. Oct. 9 in Krehbiel Auditorium, during Bethel’s regular convocation.

Wengert said he hopes to “give students a chance to discover the basics of Luther’s thought and why [those basics] may still be as revolutionary today as when Luther first came on the scene.”

The final lecture, “What Can Christians Do When Their Leaders Err?,” will be at 7 p.m. Oct. 9, at Bethel College Mennonite Church.

In their relations with Mennonites and others from the Anabaptist tradition, Lutherans have often ignored or downplayed their role in persecution during the 16th century, Wengert said.

He will draw on his work with the joint LWF-MWC commission in the first decade of this century to discuss how historical honesty in dealing with mistakes by early Reformers (including Luther himself) helped Lutherans find the courage to ask Mennonites for forgiveness.

“This remarkable reconciliation, formalized in 2010, has not yet led to full communion between our churches,” Wengert said, “but it did result in a unique model for conversations among Christians interested in establishing true, lasting relations.”

Timothy Wengert spent seven years as a parish pastor in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

He went on to earn his doctorate from Duke University and taught on the Lutheran Theological Seminary faculty from 1989-2013.

Wengert has written extensively on the Reformation. He was co-editor of the English edition of The Book of Concord and translated Luther’s Small Catechism, widely used throughout the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

In addition to several books on Philip Melanchthon, Wengert published a study of early Lutheran disputes over justification, Defending Faith (Mohr Siebeck, 2012). He is general editor of The Dictionary of Luther and the Lutheran Traditions (Baker, 2017).

He also co-authored (with Susan Wood) a book on Lutheran/Roman Catholic relations, Shared Spiritual Journey (Paulist, 2016), and edited the first volume of The Annotated Luther, from which his translation of the “95 Theses” has also appeared separately (Fortress, 2015).

Wengert has published numerous other books and articles, and travels widely to deliver lectures such as the Menno Simons series.

In addition to serving on the LWF team in dialogue with Mennonites, Wengert was a member of the ELCA-United Methodist dialogue team and of the Task Force for ELCA Studies of Sexuality, and currently serves as part of the North American Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogue.

Wengert is married to the Rev. Ingrid Fath Wengert. He is the father of two children with his first wife, the late Barbara Wengert, and the recent grandfather of twin granddaughters.

All Menno Simons Lectures are free and open to the public. A question-and-answer session will follow each lecture.

The John P. and Carolina Schrag Kaufman family established the Menno Simons Lectureship Endowment to promote research and public lectures by recognized scholars relating to Anabaptist-Mennonite history, thought, life and culture, past and present. Since 1997, the family of William E. and Meta Goering Juhnke has also contributed substantially to the endowment. Both families have their roots in the Moundridge area.

Bethel College ranks at No. 1 in College Consensus’ ranking of Kansas colleges and universities, and is the only Kansas private college listed in the Forbes.com analysis of top colleges and universities, for 2017-18. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see www.bethelks.edu.

Bethel College does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, creed, age, gender, sexual orientation, parental or marital status, gender identity, gender expression, medical or genetic information, ethnic or national origins, citizenship status, veteran or military status or disability. E-mail questions to TitleIXCoordinator@bethelks.edu.

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